To My Physicians
This is the backstory. There aren’t many people in America that are in their late 70s more driven than I am. I have wrestled with why I am so focused on things that I deem to be important. I have a handful of reasons that address my modus operandi in my twilight years.
However, in the past month, I have continued apologizing to doctors. There were three new doctors from differing areas of medical expertise who had appointments recently. Since I have a new medical insurance policy, I needed to select three doctors from the insurance company’s list of doctors. I looked through the list for each medical specialization to find a doctor. While each of the three lists contained at least three or four dozen physicians, I looked for doctors who had either an Asian or Middle Eastern family background. It didn’t take very long to find three new doctors.
In the initial visit, I told each of them that I could have pick dozens of other specialists. Nevertheless, I choose each of them for a particular reason having nothing to do with medicine. I am irked by how many Americans don’t like Asians or Muslim doctors from the Middle East. Each of them was selected due to my defiant attitude regarding racism and xenophobia that many Americans possess. Two of the three doctors were from Asian backgrounds, and the other was a Muslim from the Middle East.
Before discussing my medical concerns, I voiced my apology about racism and/or sexism with each new doctor. I had already seen my cardiologist and internist several months ago with essentially the same mea culpa comments.
I have also thanked my neurosurgeon, who saved my life over a dozen years ago. I also apologized to him for the way many Americans view Muslims. Had it not been for him, I would have died in 2008. His ethnic background and religion had no bearing on his surgical abilities.
It was interesting how each of the three recent physicians responded to my statement. This is how my new dentist listened to my apology. She listened quietly like all the other doctors that I talked to in the past. I think that all the physicians were caught off-guard about my wanting to express my apology for the racial animus that many Americans have about Asians and Middle Eastern people.
My internist, who has been my primary doctor for two decades, responded to my apology by stating, “Let’s talk about your medical issues.”
However, I was caught off-guard by my new dentist’s response to my apology. She outlined in detail her feelings. She talked about her two elementary school children who attended a school where they are the only two Asians in the entire school. Some of their classmates had issues with her children. She is a caring mother who wanted to protect her children from racist Americans.
Racism in America is seen no matter where we look, including at the Capitol on the January 6th insurrection. That mob consisted of white supremacists. Do you want proof? I know, some Americans thought the rioters were American patriots.
Last week, I wrote about Officer Eugene Goodman , a black Capitol cop, who protected Members of Congress and their staffs, many of whom were racists. Goodman is an American patriot, not the white supremacist mob.
We need to grasp the reality that diversity is a learning experience. At the beginning of each semester, the first thing that I do is to look at my students’ names. If I can’t pronounce a majority of their names, I am delighted. It assures me that the class will learn more than if everyone in the class was from a homogenized group. With diversity, the semester will provide a great teaching moment because each student will help teach the class.
I also tell every student for the last two decades that if they wish to be educated, they must travel outside their comfort zone. Travel overseas or go to school in another country but travel. George Santayana said, “A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.” The world doesn’t look like my students’ hometown.
I got my master’s degree and then traveled to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for a year of post-graduate studies a half-century ago. During more than fifty years of overseas travel, I have been in all of Western and parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Indochina, and the South Pacific. In addition, I have taught an American college class in Tibet and China.
However, another benefit from traveling abroad was that I discovered a part of my family in Myanmar, which used to be called Burma. It is located in Southeast Asia. I am telling you about its location in Asia for two reasons. The first is to make sure my readers know that Myanmar borders Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand, and Laos.
The second reason is that I have been with my family on my three trips to Myanmar. The word Asia or Southeast Asia isn’t a factor in our relationship. When I am with them, talking to them on Zoom or writing about them, my family, being Asians, is irrelevant. They are my family. When they see me or talk to me, my being a Westerner or Caucasian, it is an inconsequential detail from their perceptive. Our ethnic backgrounds are less important than the color of our eyes or what we will have for dinner. We are family.
There have been four significant transformative moments in my life. The first three started out as highly negative experiences. My family moving to Mt. Lebanon just before junior high, and my two dances with death were traumatic. Those three curses wound up as blessings. However, meeting my family has always been a blessing. I’m a different cat because of them and our time together.
Once we realize that racism and xenophobia are a part of America, we all need to apologize to those who suffered discrimination. Then America needs to change its white supremacy mindset.